Deep Wood 2021: The Final Chapter | Revolution Brewing
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Another year, another outstanding Deep Wood season from Revolution. Just like every other Deep Wood season, there have been high and lows. The highs hit very high while the lows weren’t quite that low. It’s debatable as to whether or not this has been the best line-up of Deep Wood ever, but I think most of us can agree that the recent seasons have been some of the best – and most consistent – barrel-aged beer that releases in Chicago. Revolution ends this year’s Deep Wood run with two offerings appearing for only their second time in cans – Gravedigger Billy and V.S.O.R.
Gravedigger Billy | 14.2% ABV
Gravedigger Billy returns to the lineup after brief appearances in 2015 (in bombers) and 2018 (in cans). Scotch ales in general don’t make appearances regularly in releases or on shelves in the Chicagoland area so Revolution releasing one helps out immensely.
Gravedigger Billy starts life as Willie wee heavy. This particular vintage uses two different batches composed of sweet and dry components. In addition to dark malt, traditional German smoked malt and beechwood smoked malt were used, but it only comprised about 11% of the malt bill. According to Revolution’s brewers, Gravedigger Billy closely resembles a “Scotch barleywine.”
Gravedigger Billy pours a caramel or butterscotch color. A burnt orange if you will, but on the light side of it. A fair amount of head forms while pouring (about two fingers) but tell a zinger and it’ll be gone. Lovely ruby or crimson highlights punctuate the beer, giving off some real red wine-like vibes. Just staring at it in a lit room doesn’t allow you to see through it, but holding it up directly into the light makes it somewhat transparent. But I don’t think many drinkers are holding their beer up to direct light, right?
Tons of aromas greet you upon smelling Gravedigger Billy. Bourbon and toffee hit first and strongest, while some vanilla character from the barrel supports. Repeated sniffing yields some other interesting nose flavors, including butterscotch. A mild alcohol burn tickles the nostrils a bit but it’s nothing too serious. Digging even deeper you’ll even get some licorice and a little bit of smokey character. Surprisingly deep aromatics.
Toffee and vanilla dominate on the palate as well. Surprisingly something perceived as bitterness shows up at the very end of the sip which I was not expecting. That combined with a little bit of wood smokiness gives Gravedigger Billy an interesting finish. Some licorice notes permeate through the sip as well. Much like all recent Deep Wood beers, Gravedigger Billy finishes with very little alcohol burn and exceedingly smooth. The medium to low carbonation coats the tongue while also moving things along, leaving bitterness, smoke, vanilla and toffee behind.
My only complaint is this entire flavor journey happens on the back half of the sip; the front end has very little going for it. Repeating what I said in my 2018 review of it, Gravedigger Billy is the best barrel-aged scotch ale available in Chicago. If you have a scotch ale itch, this will scratch it thoroughly.
V.S.O.R. (Very Special Old Ryeway) | 15.4% ABV
Among the regular Deep Wood season (starting in October), this release was saved as an event on many smartphones due to V.S.O.R. First released in 2019, the two-year-aged Ryeway to Heaven returns from its slumber to eagerly awaiting drinkers. (Seriously, I think it’s the only Deep Wood season beer to sell out. V.S.O.J. did as well, but that was a summer release.) A grand Deep Wood finale if you will.
V.S.O.R. features Ryeway to Heaven aged for up to two years in various barrels – including toasted French oak barrels and Buffalo Trace single mash barrels – and blended together. About 60-70% of the barrels used are rye whiskey barrels.
V.S.O.R. pours much like Ryeway – a caramel brown or soda color. An insane amount of head (about three fingers!) is only match by how insanely quick and soda-like it vanishes. Fun to watch it though! The crimson and red highlights standard on Straight Jacket and Ryeway to Heaven are present here as well.
V.S.O.R. doesn’t play. Every bit of that 15.4% alcohol hits you on the nose. Once you get past that, waves and waves of rye spices, bread, caramel, raisins, figs, toffee, and even a little smoke comes out. I was honestly surprised by how much of a bready note I got on V.S.O.R. The first three aromas definitely dominate the sniff, but everything is present and accounted for.
I honestly believe V.S.O.R. to be the culmination of their Deep Wood beers this year. That big, all-encompassing alcohol aroma? Zero on the sip. V.S.O.R. is sublimely smooth. Usually when something is this high in alcohol and it still tastes amazing, we say it’s a sipper. V.S.O.R. is a chugger. I finished my can off entirely too quickly and I wanted another one. Be careful.
As for flavors, V.S.O.R. boats a ton of rye goodness. Some bready notes assist to form this into a liquified rye bread. Caramel and toffee join in the proceedings as well. A slight hint of bitterness hits at the end but not so much you think it’s a hoppy thing. V.S.O.R. never gets too sweet and, in totality, it really resembles a rum and coke cocktail. But smoother. The low carbonation coats the tongue in all the right ways, leaving some rye caramel hanging around.
It’s been a minute since i had the 2019 V.S.O.R., but I think this version surpasses that one considerably. The smoothness, the flavors, the mouthfeel – everything. I would put this up there with V.S.O.J. (batch 1), DB V.S.O.D. and Deth by Cherries (both 2020) as an all-timer.
Deep Wood 2021 All-Season Rankings
Fuck me. Really, I did this to myself. It used to be on the easier side to rank the Deep Wood beers. Now it’s a mess of so many top quality barrel-aged beers that it’s a joke. Seriously, Deth’s Tar sits at 10 and easily can be top 5. That shows you the quality of Revolution’s Deep Wood releases. (Based on my rankings, the best release was the second one, with Straight Jacket, Vanilla Deth and Blackberry Finn.)
- 14. Deth by Raspberries
- 13. Strawberry Jacket
- 12. Maple Jacket
- 11. Gravedigger Billy
- 10. Deth’s Tar
- 9. Cafe Deth
- 8. Supermassive Cafe Deth
- 7. Blackberry Finn
- 6. Ryeway to Heaven
- 5. Vanilla Deth
- 4. Dark Mode
- 3. V.S.O.J.
- 2. Straight Jacket
- 1. V.S.O.R.
Revolution will be releasing Gravedigger Billy and V.S.O.R. the weekend of January 28, 2022. Gravedigger Billy costs $30 per 4-pack with a limit of two 4-packs. V.S.O.R. costs $50 per 4-pack with a limit of three 4-pack (but is currently sold out). Both releases are brewery-only and will see no distribution. The release party features four crazy tap-only exclusives, including two variants (apple brandy and peach brandy) of V.S.O.R. Get a Lyft ready.